01/22/2008 12:00AM

Asiatic Boy cuts back for Dubai sprint

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Asiatic Boy will start out on the road to the Dubai World Cup in Thursday night's Group 3, $200,000 Al Shindagha Sprint at Nad Al Sheba, where he will face A.G. Vanderbilt winner Diabolical, one of the many stakes winners Godolphin has added to its stable in the past year.

The six-furlong Al Shindagha seems an unlikely stepping-stone for the 1 1/4-mile World Cup on March 29, but Asiatic Boy's trainer, Mike de Kock, is unfazed by the cut back in distance for his Argentine-bred, who is slated for an American campaign later this year.

"He has a lot of natural speed and tons of ability," he said. "We often reintroduce horses over trips short of their best in South Africa."

Asiatic Boy wowed Dubai last March with his 9 1/2-length romp in the UAE Derby. He has since finished a close fourth to Ramonti in the one-mile Sussex Stakes at Goodwood and fifth to Authorized in York's 1 5/16-mile Juddmonte International, and will appreciate the return to dirt. Johnny Murtagh rides him for the first time.

Formerly trained by Steve Klesaris, Diabolical has not been seen since winning the Grade 2 Vanderbilt at Saratoga on July 28, after which he was whisked away by Godolphin. Second in the Carter Handicap and the De Francis Dash at the Grade 1 level, he will have Frankie Dettori in the saddle and should give Asiatic Boy plenty to do. Those two will be challenged by last year's Dubai Golden Shaheen third, Salaam Dubai, and by the ex-Stanley Hough trainee Terrific Challenge, winner of the Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal over the Al Shindagha course and distance last winter.

The seven-furlong dirt allowance on the same card was won by Asiatic Boy in his seasonal debut last year. On Thursday it features Aquino, a Uruguyan-bred owned by Team Valor who has won his first two starts by a total of 18 1/2 lengths, eliciting comparisons to Invasor. Irish Group 2 winner Lizard Island and the Godolphin runner My Indy, winner of his two starts in Argentina by a total of nine lengths, loom large. All three are aiming for the UAE 2000 Guineas and the UAE Derby.

Linngari, winner of the Group 1 Premio Vittorio di Capua in Milan in October and a close second in last year's Dubai Duty Free, makes his seasonal debut in a 7 1/2-furlong turf handicap, spotting his 10 rivals six to 15 pounds.

* Curlin, named Horse of the Year at Monday's Eclipse Awards, heads a list of 169 nominees to the Dubai World Cup announced on Tuesday. Also named to the $6 million race are Daaher, Awesome Gem, Student Council, Premium Tap, Asiatic Boy, Happy Boy, Literato, Vermilion, and Daiwa Scarlet.